It’s always been known that there are many great wines around the world, with some countries producing spectacular wines that can’t be produced down here in New Zealand… unfortunately. One country that’s a great example of this is Spain, and at 1.17 million hectares of grapevines, it’s actually the most widely planted wine producing nation in the world!
It’s true that Spain tends to fly well under the radar when it comes to international recognition. Why don’t we hear more about it, then, you ask? Well, France and Italy both trump Spain in the amount of wine actually produced each year despite having a smaller total area of plantation. Because Spain is so dry, much of the land is not very fertile. They’ve come up with a clever solution though: the vines spaced further apart than is common elsewhere, to ensure less competition between vines for resources such as water and soil minerals. In addition to these issues, many of the vines are very old, which generally means fewer grapes will grow on the vines. These precise facts though - the older vines, spacing and drier climate - make for some great drops that are both unique well worth trying.
So many types of grape!
Spain has a HUGE range of native grape varieties - more than 400 to be exact! Some records estimate that over 600 grape varieties are planted throughout Spain. Not all of them make great wines though, so around 80% of Spain’s wine production comes from only 20 of these types. To help you out, we’ve compiled a list of the main styles of wine you’re likely to find in Spain, or on the menu at a Spanish restaurant. So put away the sangría and check the list:
Common Spanish wine styles
Young Tempranillo (pronounced tem-pra-nee-oh). As the most commonly planted wine grape, you might have seen a Tempranillo somewhere before. What you might not know, however is when it’s young, it makes a great table wine - but can be a little spicy and tart, making it sometimes fantastic drinking but sometimes a bit of a gamble... but always a great ingredient in traditional sangría. Typical cost: $18-$25 per bottle
Aged Tempranillo. Obviously taking longer to produce, these wines tend to be a little pricier. The aging process also brings out the natural sweetness in the grape and tempers a bit of its sour notes, making it usually a great choice for dishes with grilled meats or tomato-based sauces - anything from Italian to light Mexican food. Typical cost: $35-$45 per bottle.
Young Garnacha (pronounced gar-nach-a). Known as Grenache (gren-ash) in France and many other countries, this grape is actually originally Spanish. Younger Garnacha makes fruity, typically sweeter wines - keep your eye out for a bottle produced in Northern Spain, in the cooler regions of Aragon and Navarra. Typical cost: $20-$30 per bottle
Garnacha blends (including ‘fine’ Garnacha). These wines tend to have strong berry overtones, and usually come from older vineyards. You can find single varietal Garnacha in Spain, but it’s much more common to blend the aged Garnacha grape with Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and/or Merlot. Typical cost: $30-$45 per bottle
Monastrell (mon-a-strell). Another wine which is originally Spanish, but called its French name in other parts of the world, where it’s known as Mourvèdre (pronounced Moor-ved-ra). Most Monastrell wines are both affordable and tend to be good value. Fantástico! Typical cost: $16-$28 per bottle
Mencía (pronounced men-thee-a). A medium-bodied wine unique to Spain and Portugal, Mencía has layers of fruit and floral tones that are quite similar to some of the wines produced in Burgundy in France. Depending on the region, you might taste anything from licorice to pomegranate, to even graphite. In a good way, of course. Typical cost: $25-$35 per bottle
Bobal. Pronounced exactly how it looks, Bobal is a quiet achiever, mainly known in Central Spain. This grape variety has significant levels of antioxidants, and tends to be a beautiful deep, purpley colour. If you can get your hands on a bottle, match with heavier dishes, such as barbecued meats. Typical cost: $20-$35 per bottle
Spain has been producing wines for a VERY long time now - some vineyard plantations have been dated back to some time between 4000 and 3000 BC. With all that knowledge, it’s definitely worth experimenting and seeing which Spanish wines you feel match your preferences and palate. Cheers! ...or as they say in Spain, salud!